Unearthing Medieval Trellech

This is from Wednesday’s i paper and is a fantastic example of the value of so-called amateurs, and how much can be achieved by local communities.

It was a medieval mystery that baffled experts for decades. Now a history fan has finally unearthed the priceless remains of a lost city- thanks to a colony of moles. Archaeology graduate Stuart Wilson was told how the creatures often burrowed beneath a farmer’s field near Wales’s border with England and threw up fragments of medieval pottery. So convinced was he of heir importance that he bought the 4 acre field for £32,000, savings from his job working in a tollbridge booth that he had intended as a deposit for his first house.

For the past 15 years Mr Wilson and a group of volunteers have carried out the painstaking work ot unearthing what they believe are the remains of the medieval city of Trellech. First established in the 13th century, it later fell into disrepair and “vanished”.

Later this year Mr Wilson, 37, plans to dig out the skeleton of a moated manor house. He is also applying for planning permission for a visitor centre to tell the lost city’s story, complete with a campsite for tourists and helpers.

Despite scepticism from the archaeological community, Mr Wilson said he is now taken seriously. before Christmas he was invited by Cardiff Archaeological Society to speak, and the site was featured on BBC4’s Digging for Britain.

Before Mr Wilson’s discovery, a team of professional, well-financed archaeologists had been unsuccessfully searching for the missing city by focusing on he modern village of Trellech, between Tintern and Monmouth. But in 2002 a farmer told the Monmouth Archaeological Society about the pottery found in molehills on his land outside the village. “I went and took a look,” said Mr Wilson, from Chepstow. He investigated and quickly found what he believed was th remains of a wall. “That was a very good start,” he said. Two years later the plot came up for sale and Mr Wilson swooped. “Much more experienced people were saying the city wasn’t there but I was young and confident,” he said. Having given up his job to focus full-time on the site, Mr Wilson has pinpointed 8 buildings so far. “I think we’ve only found 0.1% of it,” he said.

Medieval Trellech was home to about 10,000 people, 1/4 of the size of London at the time. It was founded by the De Clare family to manufacture weapons, armour and military equipment.

This article calls Mr Wilson an amateur, but he is a university graduate, so also a very knowledgeable and passionately hard working person. He had been working collecting tolls – a macjob – instead of what he trained for, an increasingly common situation for many graduates.

But he continued his passion and put his degree to use and will probably of immense benefit to locals and to the wider historical community, especially in Wales where jobs are often hard to find.

It is also worrying that even in such an isolated area it seems £35,000 was not enough to put a deposit on a house.  The story also highlights the value of local groups, of communities to get things done in the absence of professionals, which is a truly wonderful thing.

2 thoughts on “Unearthing Medieval Trellech

  1. Was thrilled to hear about the Trellech discoveries, being a Monmouthshire lass myself.

    You’re quite right about the cost of deposits on properties. “Old Monmouthshire” (as in the 1960’s boundaries) is a hugely divergent county ranging from council housing and some of the most deprived areas in the UK around the old industrial valley areas in what is now Torfaen and Newport to ridiculously expensive and beautiful properties in the areas around Abergavenny, Monmouth and Usk.

    It’s a county with enormous social and political divides, and one that, I suspect, “Passport to Pimlico” may have been based on. There has been some confusion over the years as to whether Monmouthshire was Wales (the inhabitants think it is), England (the former landowners thought it was) or even an independent nation as there’s some doubt when Wales was joined to England whether it was officially included!


    • Thanks. The borders do seem up for interpretation. Strokes me there is a distinct region of the marches, as there is a border region near Scotland. Wales has a reputation for being working class but there is serious money in parts such as gower


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